Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chimps Observed Creating and Using Spears for Hunting

Two articles appeared recently in online publications that described spear creation and use by chimpanzees.

One article, written by Carrie McLaren, appeared in Monkeywire (a monkey news blog).

The other article, written by William Saletan, appeared in Slate Magazine.

The articles describe the same discovery - that chimps in the Fongoli area of south-east Senegal have been breaking off branches, sharpening them into points with their teeth, and then using them to kill and eat bushbabies, which are small primates.

These activities involve advanced mental processes that were previously thought to be found only in humans.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Monkey Movie Review - "Music and Lyrics"

Today I am starting a new feature - Monkey Movie Review, which will incorporate a primate's perspective into film critiques. My first review is the recent release "Music and Lyrics" starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.

"M&L" was directed by Marc Lawrence, who also directed a number of Sandra Bullock movies. Included were Two Week's Notice - which also starred Hugh Grant. I've never heard Marc say anything bad about monkeys, so Props to The Marc-meister for that!

This film is the story of Alex Fletcher, a washed up 80's pop star (Grant) who gets involved with Sophie Fisher (Barrymore), a girl who starts out watering his houseplants, but winds up growing love and new life in his heart.

There are two obstacles that this film has to overcome, and it succeeeds admirably.

First there is a considerable age difference between Grant and Barrymore - I am guessing at least 10 years. However they make us believe the romance because Grant has a boyish charm that takes years off of his screen persona, while Drew's compelling performance makes us believe that she has a depth and maturity that exceeds her chronological age.

Second there is the issue of music that is created for fictional performers. In many cases, it . . . well, sucks! Good examples would be the rock songs that the kids perform on "Saved By the Bell" and "Full House". It is so bad that often, I see monkeys sticking bananas in their ears just to lessen the pain! However, in "Music and Lyrics", there are two songs that break this mold - Pop Goes My Heart (a catchy 80's pop tune) and Way Back Into Love (a poignant ballad about searching for love). Both songs, written by Adam Schlesinger, could be chart climbers on their own, even if they weren't part of the soundtrack.

The story line "somewhat" follows the Nora Ephron romantic comedy format, but in many ways breaks new ground with unexpected plot turns. For example, in one scene, you think that Sophie has abandoned their musical partnership at a critical time - only to find out that she saves Alex's career by a last minute decision. This came as a surprise to the audience.

Brad Garrett contributes a believeable performance as Chris Riley, Alex Fletcher's agent. He successfully breaks out of the "Raymond's brother" mold and creates a likeable, quirky character who seems like the kind of person who would be managing an over the hill pop singer.

All in all, I liked this movie very much! I thought that the quality of "Music and Lyrics" was well above the pap that Hollywood is churning out these days. Both Hugh Grant's and Drew Barrymore's performances were powerful and enjoyable. This is one of the few movies that I would go and see again!

From a primate perspective, I think that bonobos will enjoy this movie more than chimpanzees. Bonobos have a much gentler nature. They are a matriarchal society (women rule) and they solve conflicts by having sex rather than fighting. Romantic comedies are their forte.

Chimps, on the other hand, tend to be more violent. They prefer action films like Mission Impossible, with helicopters getting blown up, and dozens of charred soldiers being tossed skyward by huge explosions.

Bottom line - an Opposable Thumbs Up for "Music and Lyrics"!

From the Monkey Vault - "Feel Good" by Gorillaz

Feel Good by Gorillaz. An awesome video with excellent graphics!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Discover Magazine Interviews Jane Goodall

The March 2007 issue of Discover Magazine includes an interview with Jane Goodall. The interview was conducted by Virginia Morell. Although Jane has been interviewed more than most people in the world, Virginia still managed to discover new information by asking the right questions. For example:

When asked to compare human aggression to animal aggression, Jane responded "I think modern warfare is very different from chimpanzee warfare. Chimpanzee warfare is not unlike gang warfare, but modern warfare is about economics. It isn't about defending territory."

It has now been 47 years since Jane Goodall began her research in Gombe. The interview reveals that Jane began her career in Africa by working as a secretary for the famous anthropologist Lewis Leakey. While working with him, she developed her passion for observing chimpanzees.

Jane is credited with changing our perception of higher primates from that of mindless animals to seeing them as thinking, feeling, very intelligent beings, who in many ways meet the definition of human. Her findings were not anthropomorphic, but rather based on years of carefully documented observations that, in time, were verified by other scientists.

Jane also discusses TACARE, the Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education program, which gives microcredit loans to tribes which live near the chimpanzee habitats. This program provides economic incentives for the local people to preserve the chimp habitats and to reforest areas around these habitats. Jane states that it is much more successful than block grants from large world charities. This is so because it is developed and run through the local tribal cultures, so the people buy into the programs more enthusiastically than when money is "thrown" at them from outside organizations.

I have read quite a bit lately about microcredit loans, and how successful they have been in third world countries. In 2006, Muhammad Yunus, one of the originators of the microcredit loan system, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Jane also educates children all over the world about the importance of preserving wildlife habitats, so that the next generation of people running our planet will be more sensitive to this issue.

My only criticism of this interview was that it was very brief. Virginia did ask Jane fifteen well crafted questions, and Janes answers were very informative, but, after finishing the interview, I was hungry for more.

However, if you are interested in Jane Goodall's work, and would like to learn more about her, then this interview is well worth reading!

Monkey Prose Reaches 5,000 Site Visits!

Today Monkey Prose reached 5,000 site visits! And that took place in the last 2 months!

I am deeply grateful to all Monkey Prose visitors for your support and encouragement!

In order to thank my readers, I am offering a copy of Jill Greenberg's wonderful book Monkey Portraits to the first 3 visitors (in the US) who respond by e-mail, with an evaluation of my blog. I am looking for both positive and negative (constructive) comments. This feedback will help me to continue to improve the quality and content of Monkey Prose. I am limiting this offer to the US because shipping to other countries would be too expensive. (Sorry Sri Lanka!) However I welcome comments from visitors all over the world.

My e-mail address is Please be sure to include your complete mailing address, so that I can assure delivery of the book to you.

I will announce the winners in a later post, and will also include their comments.

Thank you again for your support! Please visit Monkey Prose again in the future, because a lot more cool and interesting stuff is coming!

- Monkey Bob

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tony DeSare - A New Jazz Talent!

Every once in a while I need to go "off topic" because I can't talk about monkeys all of the time!

My wife Trudi and I recently discovered a wonderful jazz pianist named Tony DeSare. He just released his second album (shown at left) called Last First Kiss.

Tony is a fast rising talent in the genre of Harry Connick Jr. and Peter Cincotti. But Tony has his own unique style, which sets him apart from his contemporaries.

DeSare's piano talent is stunning for a artist so young (30), and his crystal clear voice and movie star good looks have caused more than one listener to compare him to Michael Buble. In addition, Tony writes many of his own songs, which makes him a musical Triple Threat.

In Last First Kiss, Tony makes a gutsy departure from "Sinatra style" standards by covering Prince's hit song "Kiss". While Prince's version is Funky with a capital "F", Tony goes in a completely different direction and transforms this song into a bouncy ballad that works quite well!

The back up band includes well known jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, whose impeccable playing adds even more polish to DeSare's virtuoso performances.

If you are a fan of the new generation of piano crooners, then I think that you will very much enjoy this album! Also check out Tony's first album Want You. It is another masterpiece!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

How Do Monkeys Celebrate Valentine's Day?

How do monkeys celebrate Valentine's Day? It's a question that philosophers have asked for a long time. In the last 50 years, primatologists have devoted a great deal of effort to answering this important question. Here are some of their findings:

Bonobos have a marked preference for full bodied red wines and chocolate. A recent Congo survey reveals that Forest Glen Merlot (Vintage 2004) and Cadbury Dark Chocolate far surpass other bonobo choices. Bongo Bongo, spokesperson for the Bonobo Consumers Union, commented "Forest Glen Merlot has a wonderful blend of grape, leather, and raspberry that teases the palate while still leaving something to the imagination. All in all, I think that you will find it to be an amusing little vintage, and you will be charmed by its presumption!"

Chimpanzees, on the other hand, lean towards a more earthy, powerful liquor. This appears to mirror their more aggressive nature. Twelve year old single malt scotch is by far the preferred choice in libations for our furry cousins. Cheetette, the granddaughter of Cheeta (the star of Tarzan movies) commented "Scotch is an In Your Face kind of liquor. You don't need to pussyfoot around the flavor or the powerful kick that Scotch has on your perceptions. It gets you to 'The Buzz Zone' quickly and without any pretense. Also, you don't get a hangover with Scotch - as long as you don't drink too much!"

Capuchin Monkeys have a marked preference for 30's and 40's old standards (like "Stardust" and "The Memory of You") along with with a passion for Grappa, the Italian aperitif. Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael are much admired at Capuchin Valentines Day celebrations.

No matter how you celebrate it, I think that the message of Valentine's Day is to find your Prime-Mate and to tell them how much they mean to you!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Chimpanzee Stone Age

The Chimpanzee Stone Age is an article was recently posted on Science Blog. I was informed about this story by Monkeywire, an excellent source for news about primates.

This article describes how scientists have discovered 4,300 year old stone tools, that were used by chimpanzees. The chimpanzees used these tools to crack open nuts.

The implication is that stone tool usage may not have been limited to humans. It may have co-developed with apes as well. Such a revelation brings us closer to our primate cousins, both in terms of behavior and evolution.

In the NOVA program - The Last Great Ape - which appeared on PBS Television on 2-13-07, Primatologist Frans de Waal discusses our closest biological relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos. He calls them "time machines" because they allow us to look at our species at a much earlier stage of development. Such a study lets us discover aspects of human behavior, thinking, and social interaction that may be more biologically "hard wired" than was previously believed.

The end result may be that by studying chimpanzees and bonobos, we can develop a deeper understanding of who we are as humans.

Monday, February 12, 2007

NOVA TV Program - The Last Great Ape

On Tuesday February 13, 2007 at 8:00 PM eastern time, public television stations will broadcast a NOVA program entitled The Last Great Ape. This program will feature the Bonobo, which is also known as the Pygmy Chimpanzee. A Congo expedition examines the life of these gentle creatures, who often settle disputes by having sex rather than fighting. Listed below is an excerp from the Nova website:

"Bonobos help us to see ourselves more in the round," says Frans de Waal, a primatologist at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. In particular, he says, we can learn as much about human evolution and behavior by studying the sensitive, peace-loving bonobo as by studying the more violent chimpanzee—both of which share more than 98 percent of our DNA. In this interview, de Waal explains what the ape he calls the "make-love-not-war" primate can teach us about who we are—and why, for this reason alone, it's vital to protect this highly endangered close relative of ours.

You can read the complete interview with Frans deWaal at
Frans de Waal - Nova Interview. Dr. de Waal has written a number of fascinating books, including Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape.
Note: I only list these websites for the readers' convenience. I am not compensated by for providing this information.

I am certain that this will be a compelling program. After watching it, I invite viewers to send your comments to
Monkey Prose.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Monkey Bob Visits a New Exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History

Today my wife Trudi and I visited the new Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins at The American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It was very impressive!

It was also the most popular exhibit at the Museum - even beating out the headlined Gold Exhibit.

The Hall of Human Origins is very well thought out. It is laid out in a meandering pattern that allows you to browse at whatever pace suits you. This design also optimizes traffic flow - an important consideration if you plan to visit on the weekend, when they get the most visitors. The floor plan lets visitors view many exhibits from three (and sometimes four) sides, thus minimizing the wait time to get close to the displays. Even with a lot of people in the area, I still enjoyed the experience and did not feel that I was being crowded or that I was being denied access to the information.

The Curators for The Hall of Human Origins are Ian Tattersall, Ph.D. and Rob DeSalle, Ph.D. Ian's research interests include "human evolution, particularly the recognition of species in the human fossil record and the determination of their relationships, as well as integration of the human fossil record with evolutionary theory." Rob's research focuses on "molecular evolution, population genetics, systematics and bioinformatics". Their credentials gave them an excellent background to create and support this exhibit.

One of the coolest parts of the exhibit is a lab where visitors can collect and extract their own DNA, using swabs of saliva collected from the visitors' cheeks. My work involves molecular biology, and I have always thought of this as a very complicated process. However this lab simplifies the process so that regular people can understand the concept of DNA and molecular biology. That was very impressive! As Albert Einstein once said - “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.”

This display contains enough information to justify multiple visits. If you are interested in the history of ancient man, then I believe that you will very much enjoy the Hall of Human Origins!

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Did you ever wonder how scientists are able to re-create the faces of our distant ancestors? Well, it's done through a process called Dissection in Reverse, where anthopologists and artists combine their knowledge to develop faces of ancient man starting from the skulls up. This month's Natural History Magazine has an article called Faces of the Human Past, which describes how this is done.

Two of the most skilled practitioners of this art are Gary J. Sawyer and Viktor Deak. Gary is a physical anthropologist at The American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Viktor is a paleoartist.

This story was written by Richard Milner and Ian Tattersall. They present this information in a concise style that doesn't get bogged down in scientific termanology and which also expresses their passion for this art form.

I think that we all are innately drawn to stories about our ancient ancestors, because we want to know where we came from. Our history is part of who we are now. If this subject is of interest to you, then I think that you will find this story to be well worth reading!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except For Me and My Monkey - The Beatles

Me and My Monkey A great Beatles song. No video - just music.

Monkey Talk

The February 2007 issue of National Geographic has an article on the Wildlife page entitled "Monkey Talk". This article describes how putty nosed monkeys combine a number of calls to form simple sentences. The article states that:

"Now for the first time, scientists believe that they have evidence of a non-human mammal combining signals to creat entirely new meanings."

So if you run across a putty nosed monkey calling "Pyow Pyow Hack Hack", then you better watch your back, because something is up!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Young Gene Kelly is Inspired

In the 1920's Monkey Showers were "all the rage". One morning while bathing, young Gene Kelly got the inspiration for his beloved musical Singin' in the Rain.